After 38 years, the pain, terror and shock of that momentous night in October 1960 still haunt me. Harder to explain is the awareness of God's unlimited mercy and forgiveness which followed my suicide attempt and continued right up to the present day. What I am about to relate is definitely not hallucination or self-deception. I relate what happened and hope it may help someone somewhere to recognize and welcome God’s presence in his or her own life at a time when death may seem to be the only way out. If 38 years ago anyone had said I would walk the treacherous path of lost faith to the very pit of hell I would have laughed.
I had recently married back in 1948 a beautiful woman by the name of Pat. She was a popular girl and I felt very privileged to have won her. I was busy working on my goals as an accountant and was too busy admiring the silver-lining that I couldn’t even see the gathering storm clouds. In the ensuing years all my hopes, dreams and bright prospects eroded. Once a moderate and occasional social drinker, I started drinking more and more heavily and before I realized what had happened, I had fallen over the edge into serious alcohol abuse. The edge was a hell of lost faith, fears, impotence and self-pity.
After only seven months of what I thought was the perfect marriage, I found out my wife was cheating on me and that drove me further into withdrawal and booze. I too was to be blamed in wrecking our marriage. Every time a new affair came to light after that, whether it was just a short affair or a yearlong romance, I said many hurtful things and did all I could to make her feel very guilty. Even so, she was out on a date when I finally decided to do something about what I viewed as a completely hopeless and degenerating situation.
With Pat gone, probably for the night, I tucked our two boys and little girl into bed and listened to their prayers. Prayers at that time somehow seemed shallow and senseless to me. I found no assurance or hope in prayer. I had become a devout atheist. When the children were sound asleep, I collected the materials of what I thought of as my "final escape"; two bottles of sleeping tablets and a prescription bottle from the medicine chest, tranquilizers I had hoarded. With the addition of three bottles of booze, I thought I had everything I needed to make my great escape. I recall the doctor telling me not to mix booze with these pills or it could kill me. Back then, I had no desire to die, but still the conversation had planted a suicide thought.
I wrote a suicide note and shook out five tranquilizers. I mixed the drinks together with the liquor and I toasted my wife’s vacant chair. "Here’s to nothing, make that nothingness." The capsules slipped down easily and the false warmth of the booze surged through me. "On my way" I thought and there was no turning back!!
My second drink finished off the tranquilizers and my fingertips and toes began to tingle. "Well, maybe the pills aren’t going to work after all" I said to myself. I felt, not drunk, but just a little dulled and a little lightheaded. I had a nagging fear that I would be stopped in my attempt as I had been in everything else I had come to consider important, so I downed another handful of sleeping pills. My hand was still steady as I poured the last of my bourbon. What can I do, what will I do if this doesn’t work? I felt a burning sensation building in my stomach.
My drinking habit had gotten so strong that a couple of drinks with lunch, a bracer on the way home, and two-fifths of vodka or bourbon when I finished off the evening were really hardly sufficient to dull my pain and frustration. I don’t want to wake up with just another hangover and all my problems still gnawing at me. I don’t want to wake up ever. I finished off all the booze and the pills and began to see a dark, cloud like formation and it was coming towards me. It was coming right through the ceiling of my kitchen and came in and engulfed me.
I felt myself moving through this tunnel at a very fast rate. I saw a light at the end of the tunnel and was wondering if this is where I was going. I didn’t know if I was dead or alive at that point, but I do recall looking back at myself passed out on the kitchen floor and I lay there completely oblivious to this other part of me which seemed to be heading towards something. "Is this what death is?" I wondered. "No!" came an answer from somewhere.
I was shocked to see a being of incredible beauty, radiating great love, great compassion and warmth. It was a being of beautiful, bright white light, which had silver threads emanating from the center. I was hesitant to say anything, and then I realized that my thoughts were being read by this incredible being of light. "No!" he repeated again. "This is not what death is like. Come, I will show you." I remembered floating with him over to a pit of some sort that contained a very depressing scene of a landscape devoid beauty, devoid of life, where people shuffled around with their heads down and their shoulders bent forward in a depressed, resigned manner. They kept their heads down and looked at their feet and wandered around aimlessly, bumping into each other occasionally but they kept on going. It was a horrifying thought that I was going to be cast down with these confused lost souls, but the voice seemed to understand my terror and relieved it with the following words: "This is a Hell of your own creation. You would have to go back to earth eventually and experience a new life all over again faced with the same difficulties that you faced in this lifetime. You will stay with these lost and confused souls until then. Suicide is not an escape."
I was shown a panoramic view of my life. The last five years which had become so burdened with alcohol abuse were the most painful things, the most painful memories I could even imagine. I was shown a picture of the effect that alcohol had caused on my young children’s life and the effect that it would cause in their future. I saw the sorrow that my children would feel at the loss of their family and me. I was shown that their mother would not take good care of them and eventually they would be put into a foster home. I also was given a preview on how my alcoholism would influence my children’s life if I continued to drink in the manner I had become accustomed to and stayed in that family relationship. I saw that all three children, two boys and a girl, would follow my poor example and each would eventually use the bottle to escape life’s day to day on-going stresses until each would then in turn become alcoholics also. The sight of my precious young daughter growing up, marrying a fellow alcoholic, who would eventually beat her and force incestuous relationships on their four daughters, was more than I could stand. It was like a slap in the face. A huge reality check.
I saw that if I shaped up my act and began behaving like a responsible father and role model, all three children would grow up to be happy and productive. That doesn’t mean completely free of the struggles of everyday life, but they would have a chance at making their own way, independent of any substance abuse. I saw how my oldest son was going to be able to become an important influential person in his time if I stayed around and behaved like a real father. I saw the down side of this future if I stayed in their relationship as the drunken weak father that he would eventually turn to drugs and end up in prison for crimes that he committed while trying to get money for drugs. It was terrifying to me and I decided right then and there this was not what I wanted for my children, or myself. I was shown if I continued as a hopeless, pathetic drunk that I would not be able to escape. Having to relive all the trials and traumas that brought me right up to the point of suicide, I would have to face those again in another life and it just seemed more terrifying than I even wanted to admit. I cried.
The being of light seemed to understand that I was filled with a sense of remorse, compassion and loving. He said in a stern voice but that was still like a father speaking to a son, "Your life is not to do with as you please. Did you create yourself, give yourself life? No. Neither can you choose death." I couldn’t speak, I couldn’t think, I cried even more. This presence in voice must be the Holy Spirit sent to me, I thought. The voice, now softer continued, "I’m not done with you, your work isn’t finished, go back and do what you were meant to do."
The first thing I saw when I awoke was relief flooding my daughter’s face. Nancy had awakened during the night and struggled vainly to keep the spark of life burning inside of me. "Oh daddy" she said," I was so afraid we lost you. You were so cold and I couldn’t even feel your heart beat."
In the kitchen my wife was getting lunch. "Come and get it kids", she called, "and you can have some too if you can stagger your drunken self over to the table" she added sarcastically. I felt completely exhausted and very hungry but not at all hung over. For some strange reason I didn’t have the gut wrenching pain that I had felt the night before after taking such an over dose of pills. Best of all I still felt that inner love and peace and caring that had come from the night before.
It would be pleasant to relate that life since then has been all perfect but that would be a lie. Separation and divorce were heart breaking although I did keep the children. I wanted the children and they wanted me and my wife’s boyfriend didn’t want them. I ended my job as an accountant and went on to become a professor at a local college and it was tough going.
Using all my savings and retirement funds to pay bills and keep the family intact during a month long job search cost me what security I might have had, and learning new job skills was both challenging and scary at times. Still the peace and comfort I first knew while standing at the edge of the pit of Hell have never left me or allowed me to lose my renewed faith and trust. Some friends can’t understand why I don’t feel bitter; best answers lie in the twenty-third psalm: "Yeah, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me, Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me."
Since my experience, I have found that I no longer fear death, that I have a much more spiritual outlook and I take my responsibility of raising my children very seriously now. I am there for them and I am proud to announce that their lives are coming along much better now that I have become the father I should have always been and I have met and married a beautiful women who is beautiful on the inside and who is giving me strength and courage to get through all of life’s trials and tribulations. I will never forget my experience on the edge of Hell and what it has taught me.
The negative Near Death Experience is not negative when good comes out of it. I am now a pastoral counselor and do some bookkeeping for small businesses on the side. My children are on their own and have happy, busy, productive lives. I feel at peace.
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